Say “Yes” to Lent

slow-advent

Once again, the season of Lent is upon us. It is a time for reflection on our place in God’s world, and in our own world. There are many ways to embark upon a fast, and many things we can give up. But instead of saying “no” to temptations around us, this year I encourage you to say “yes” to something else. I ask you to say yes to making our world a better place. I have jotted down a few ideas about some things each of us can say “yes” to. The list is by no means exhaustive, but I do hope it provides you with some food for thought.

Say “Yes” to Community: It seems that the modern world is isolating us from each other, to focus only on ourselves. And the steps are so small. So insidious. Moving away from family for a job; not meeting friends because of other commitments; sitting alone at our desks at lunch; staying late at work; skipping church to catch up on sleep. These actions are not bad in and of themselves, but each one strips love and companionship from our lives. For me, living only for ourselves is not what being a Christian is about. To me, Christian life is about community, both locally and internationally. That’s why our family attends St. Mark’s – the sense of helping those around us, both seen and unseen. A community living to the glory of God.

Say “Yes” to Global Justice: I read recently that environmental problems are hard for people to psychologically and emotionally to get behind and try to help. We are much more likely to offer help to another human being, such as a miner trapped in a cave-in, or an orphan looking for a home. We can put a face to these needs, and this suffering. We can offer assistance and immediately feel better about ourselves. But taking care of the planet has no human face. Driving a little less, or bringing our own re-usable bags to the store brings no immediate gratification. But each small step does make a difference. Those who are least able to afford to move, or change livelihoods, will be most affected by climate change. So doing our part here is also doing our part for global justice.

Say “Yes” to a Cleaner World: One of the ways we can embrace our call to be stewards of the earth is to look for opportunities to be environmentally friendly, and encourage sustainability. Local news noted that there were 92 million pieces of litter in Newfoundland, or 170 pieces per person. So there’s no shortage of opportunity to help clean up. We can pick up garbage on hikes. We can drive as little as possible, combining errands whenever we can. We can choose organic or local foods when we can, and packaging that is biodegradable or re-usable. For your next vehicle, consider getting a hybrid or electric model.

Say “Yes” to a New Habit: If you are unsure where to begin, there are a ton of websites that can give you ideas. Just search under “how to live greener.” Perhaps start with something that might be a little awkward at first, but easily can grow into a habit. For example, bringing your own bags to the grocery store. I must admit it was decidedly annoying the first few times I forgot to bring my own bags and I didn’t allow myself to use grocery store bags (more motivation to remember next time). So it did require occasional juggling, but once bringing your own bags is a habit, it is one that requires no thought or effort.

Say “Yes” to Being Better Informed: As a church community we will be showing “An Inconvenient Sequel,” a movie on the urgency for environmental action. The movie will be played on Earth Day, April 22, at 7:30PM. Please come out and find out a little more about the science behind climate change, and the importance of taking action sooner, not later.

No single action will change the world, but each journey is made up of series of small steps. I wrote down a few ideas to get you started, and would be grateful for any suggestions you might like to make, or things that you are doing to make a difference. Thank you.

Richard is a member of vestry at St. Mark’s with a special focus on creation care. He and his wife Hanna attend our 10:30 am worship on Sunday with their three young children.

 

 

Advertisements

The Return of the Light: A Reflection on Light, Love and Ashes

return of the light

I can totally understand our ancestors’ worship of the sun. Honestly, I can! I mean just put yourself in the place of your pre-scientific great, great, great, great, great, great ……. grandparents and the way they viewed the sun. It illuminated their days, and when it disappeared at night they were filled with a sense of dread from hidden predators of both the animal and spiritual kind. The sun gave life and sustained life. It made their crops grow as well as every other living creature. The sun could also take life. Too much of the sun brought drought, starvation and death. They tracked the sun and stars (other suns) and fashioned their calendars and the keeping of time around the movement of these heavenly bodies. There was a constancy in the sun. Every day the sun rose and set. Every year the sun faded and returned. There was rhythm. The sun faithfully moved across the sky, a type of cosmic covenant.

We’re not so different from our distant relatives. Sure, we don’t worship the sun with sacrifices. You don’t see the masses bowing down to Sun Gods like Ra or Apollo. Yet we still show a tremendous amount of devotion to the sun. Look at our obsession with the weather. Its prognosticators are local and national celebrities, whipping us into near religious fervour over the upcoming weather. There are TV channels devoted exclusively to the weather and apps that give us 24/7 access to predictions on the weather – all so we can plan our lives around how much sun there will be. Look at what happens on a sunny day, especially after a few days of bad weather. Everyone comes out to bask in the sun. We now know that our moods are tied to the sun or lack thereof. Yes, we have evolved beyond the superstitions of our ancestors but we still, like them, hold the sun, the light, with much devotion. Like them we still depend on the light of the sun for our very existence.

Even our Lenten season is rooted in the sun. The slight tilt of the earth back on its axis as it rotates around the sun leads to longer days and more light. New life is just around the corner. Lent is the marking of the lengthening of days, the return of the light. The light that will fully return at the end of our Lenten journey.

Lent reminds us of our place in this cosmic covenant of light. Lent reminds us that we are not the light; we are but dust. We are the dust of stars, billions of years old, brought to life on this tiny planet by the light of our sun.

Scripture, too, reminds us of our part in the story of creation. God creates us out of dust, blessing us with divine breath. We are awakened for just a flickering moment in the grand scheme of things, created to take part in the work of creating and re-creating, of love and life. God enters into covenant with humanity, promising to be faithful always. The Hebrew word for this is hesed, the most common word and description of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. God shines the light of hesed, covenant love and faithfulness, on us. In return God asks us to do the same in the world, reflecting God’s love back out into the world.

The prophet Joel is reminding the Hebrew people of this covenant relationship. He calls them to covenant renewal via fasting and prayer. It’s a type of sacred reboot back into right covenant relationship with God and each other. “Change your heart and not your clothes” he calls. Do not think that your religious observances absolve you from your responsibility to God and to your sisters and brothers, to the alien, the widow and the orphan.

The gospel from Matthew also warns about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The hypocrisy that pays fine detail to the rituals and the law, but ignores what is important to God, which is a broken and contrite heart. Even the public display of the imposition of ashes must be tempered by Matthew’s warnings about making a performance out of our piety. The power of our religious symbols lies not in the symbols themselves, but in the grace, mercy and love to which they point. The ashes we use today point to a deeper truth.

For us Christians this grace, mercy and love is made flesh in Jesus. In his life lived, and in his broken body and spilled blood, we see the God who dwells in light inaccessible. In him the light becomes human, hesed becomes flesh and bone and dies a human death. But not even death can fully hinder the light. There is no ending to love. The light always returns. The ashes remind us of our frailty and brokenness. A frailty that God himself assumes in the incarnation. A brokenness that God seeks to heal and redeem. Far from being a symbol of death, the ashes become a symbol of redemption. From the light comes dust and from dust comes the light of salvation.

Lent then is a call for us to turn back to the light, what in religious language we call repentance. It’s 40 days of preparation and self-reflection as we wait for the light. This light is now only a faint glimmer, but soon its full glory will be revealed. Even now its warmth draws us toward it, melting away the frozen bleakness of our hearts. Remember you are dust, star dust, and to that same dust we will all surely return. But in the light of God’s love, the risen son, humans (literally from the dirt) truly live. So as the light returns to us, let us turn toward the light and let us keep a holy Lent.

In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forevermore. Amen.

This song from Alana Levandowski beautifully compliments what I’ve written here. The song is called When Love Meets Dust and was recorded specifically for the rare occasion of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day this year

 

People of Promise: Lent 2018

covenant

“… after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The Prophet Jeremiah

Recently in a sermon I confessed my love for the Old Testament, better known as the Hebrew Scriptures. Needless to say it got me some raised eyebrows and funny looks. Really?? Isn’t that the part of the Bible with the violent, bloodthirsty God? No doubt this part of the bible can be hard to understand and parts of it seem far removed from the 21st century digital world that we inhabit. But what I love about the Hebrew Scriptures are the stories that try to make sense of how we relate to God and to each other. These stories weave together to create the grand mosaic story of covenant or, better yet, the story of the covenant God.

In our present age covenant is a word that doesn’t resonate much anymore. Outside of particular religious traditions it’s not a word that is used often, but not so in the ancient world. For the Hebrew people, in particular, covenant was central to their self-understanding. After all it was God who had called their ancestor Abraham into covenant, promising that through Abraham all the world would be blessed. After liberating the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, God enters into a covenant with them making them a chosen people. They are called to be a people of holiness and righteousness, justice and love. In fact, the most repeated word in the Hebrew Scriptures is covenant in the form of hesed, which is pictured in tattoo form above. Hesed is translated many ways including covenant love, faithfulness and steadfastness. Covenant is about promise and relationship. As the prophet Jeremiah says in pointing to a new covenant that will go beyond the old: “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” As the story unfolds we see that God, and not the people, is the one who is truly faithful to the covenant relationship.

For Christians too, covenant is central to who we are. Without an understanding of the covenant-keeping God of the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of Jesus and the church make no sense. As contemporary Christian writer Rachel Held Evans says, “When the people of God abandoned the covenant of love and fidelity, drawn as we are by the appeal of shallow, empty pleasures, God removed every possible obstruction to the covenant by being faithful for us, by becoming like us and subjecting himself to the very worst within us, loving us all the way to the cross and all the way out of the grave.”

It is not by mistake, then, that the notion of covenant gets associated with baptism by the earliest Christians. Nor was it by chance that the Lenten season of baptismal preparation used the covenant stories of the Hebrew Scriptures to tell new Christians of their place in the story of the covenant people of God. This Lent we return once again to these stories…the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Hebrew people, Jeremiah and promised covenant renewal. What will they tell us about God and ourselves?

Our Lenten journey this year, then, is one of promise – the promise of the never-failing, steadfast love of God. The promise of our place in the great story of God and God’s covenant people. Also it is a reminder that this covenant love cannot be kept to ourselves but must be shared – shared with each other, but also shared with all whom we meet.

Rev. Robert